As far back as I can remember, I have been a quiet, nervous kid.
It’s not too hard to imagine, because I’m a pretty quiet, nervous twenty-five-year-old too.
One who can be painfully shy, more than a little awkward, and who frets about things both real and imagined.
I’m scared of disappointing people, of being rude, and of being disliked.
The irony of it being hard to be well-liked when you’re too scared to talk to someone is not lost on me either.
Whether it’s meeting people for the first time, trying something new, or being put into an uncomfortable situation – for as long as I can remember these situations make me tense up, retreat into myself, and wish for it to all be over.
It first began spiralling out of control throughout those dreaded high school years.
Fears of being hit by a football when I walked across the oval to class every day, or getting laughed at for saying something wrong in class, made me hyper aware of anything that could make me look like an idiot (and heaven forbid, make me stand out of the crowd).
When you’re desperate to remain invisible, you begin to think that anything that could go wrong, will go wrong.
It wasn’t until after leaving school, that I realised that these fears hadn’t subsided.
It wasn’t just the kids at school whose opinions I feared, and who I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of, it was the wider world, a world which I was now a part of.
When I was much older I was able to pin down exactly what was going on in my mind, and why these things made me feel the way I did –
I had anxiety.
Anxiety comes in many different forms that can affect us in many different ways.
It can be as simple as butterflies in your stomach, sweating and a racing heart, to panic attacks and being frozen inside of yourself.
A feeling that can last a couple of minutes, or a couple of days.
I’ve always felt trapped inside of myself because of my anxiety.
I never wanted to be the shy kid, or the person who can’t speak in public, but my mind had this ability to overpower my body in these situations, and trap me within myself, like I’m locked inside by the walls of fear.
Once I realised exactly what was going on with my mind, and could put a label on it, I began opening up to my friends and family about how I was feeling.
It wasn’t a sob story, or even a plea for help, in fact, once I was able to open up about it, the first instinct was to share a laugh about it.
By talking about the different situations I get anxious in, and shouting ‘riddikulus’ at them, I hoped to be able to turn them from something scary into something I’m able to laugh about.
(Shout-out to the Harry Potter fans who get this metaphor).
Situations that can spark anxiety can be normal things, like a presentation in front of a group, or a tough time in the office, and range all the way to ridiculous scenarios that play in your head and turn even the smallest thought into something paralysing.
I can acknowledge that more often than not it is utterly ridiculous the things I worry about, but the wrong mindset can trigger a molehill into a mountain.
Here’s a brief list of things I have worried about in the past 24 hours of my life:
- When I’m walking too close to people, I’m scared they’ll think I’m going to mug them so they’ll either scream for help or hit me.
- I check the lid of my take-away coffee cup about fifteen times before I take my first sip – heaven forbid the lid is loose and I spill coffee all over myself.
- If someone takes the same turns as me more than twice when I’m driving, I’m convinced they’re following me.
- When I’m brushing my teeth, I’m scared when I spit into the sink I’ll knock my front teeth out on the faucet.
- When I’m crossing at pedestrian crossings by myself, I fear the drivers will think I’m presumptuous if I walk out onto the road and expect them to stop for me, so I wait until all the cars have gone.
- And above all, I hate selling myself. Whether it’s in a job interview, or trying to sell my book, having to ‘talk myself up’ is the most uncomfortable thing in the world.
My partner has a ball as we walk down the street together, and I give a running commentary about all the things I have anxiety about at any given moment;
Tripping on that bit of concrete, that toddler on the scooter running dead into my nether-regions, my shopping bags splitting sending groceries rolling down the road.
I won’t deny that it’s fun, and a release when I can share these things, but at the same time, once the laughter dies down, these are still things that stress me out more than they should – no matter how unlikely they may be.
I can acknowledge in a conversation that they’re mainly unfounded fears, but convincing your mind that these are ridiculous things that aren’t worth fearing isn’t as easy to do.
So instead of going shopping alone, there are days where I’ll be stuck inside with an empty fridge.
Instead of walking down the street to grab a coffee, I’ll more often than not go without.
The email I’ve drafted to send to stores and libraries about my book is deleted and never sent.
Underneath the veneer of ridiculous situations, are the fears that stop me living life to the full.
Although most of these fears are completely groundless, if I’m already feeling self-conscious or down, they can wreak havoc with my mind.
So much so that the easiest thing to do often seems to be withdrawing from these situations, and missing out.
When fears are more than just funny anecdotes, they can change your way of life and limit how you engage with the world.
They stop you being the real you, and make you second guess every single choice you make, and every situation you find yourself in.
It can be the hardest thing to do, but standing up and saying that you deserve better than this is the first step to helping yourself.
There’s no shame in admitting that you don’t want this kind of life for yourself, and that you need to talk to someone – whether a professional or a friend – to work through it.
We can get weighed down in the monotony of the day-to-day, or held back by the negativity, that we can forget that we only get one shot at this life, and to reel ourselves back from living it to the full is only doing ourselves a disservice.
It can seem more comfortable withdrawing from life to avoid these fears, but when we reach the end of our time, are we going to remember the peace of mind we had each time we avoided uncomfortable situations, or are we going to remember the time we met our fears head-on and had a blast as a result?
With the resources and help we have available, living in these fears doesn’t have to be a reality.
The first step is acknowledgement, the next is kicking ass.
There’s a whole wide world out there for the taking, and we’re the only ones stopping ourselves from truly enjoying it.
Feeling a little overwhelmed?
Ready to shed your fears and live your real life?
Let’s do this together.
Check out my piece on beyondblue‘s Personal Stories page.